When I look in the eyes of a pregnant teenage patient, I see my wife. My wife was a teen mother. She was a teen mother who beat the odds. She is not a statistic. She is an example of the tremendous potential that lies before each and every teen facing the challenges of teen pregnancy. Pregnancy did not stop her from succeeding. My wife tells the story of riding her bicycle to her doctor’s appointments. She raised her child, graduated high school and worked her way through college and nursing school. Her determination created a successful life for herself and Jaclyn, her daughter. This is what I see when I see young pregnant patients: potential and opportunity. I know that as a doctor I can make a difference that not only helps them but also the lives of their children. For this reason, I dedicate my time and energy working with teens in the office and educating teens about teen pregnancy.
In 2003, I joined Macarthur OB/GYN, a medical practice in Irving, Texas. I began seeing a large volume of young teenagers in my practice and was surprised at the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy and an overall lack of knowledge regarding sexual health. I reached out to the local school nurses and offered myself as a resource. Over time this relationship evolved. Navigating through a politically charged issue like teen pregnancy was a challenge, but after gaining the support of Irving ISD administration I began giving lectures and presentations on teen pregnancy and STD prevention. I have spoken to countless Irving ISD students over the past 10 years providing information about sexual choices, personal responsibility, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention.
I work closely with the Teenage Pregnant & Parenting Students (TAPPS) Program, a district wide program that meets the needs of pregnant and parenting students. While the national high school graduation rate for teen parents hovers around 40%, the graduation rate for our TAPPS students is over 90%. By creating a partnership between the TAPPS program and Macarthur OB/GYN we extend the reach of the program beyond the four walls of the classroom. The physicians at Macarthur OB/GYN not only care for the pregnancy, but also work with the student to make sure they are enrolled in the TAPPS program. We enroll them in the YWCA Nurse Family partnership which provides mentorship, prenatal and parenting education. We schedule visits around the school day. We empower the students to be ready to parent and aggressively educate on contraception to avoid a second teen pregnancy. We have demonstrated that identifying the pregnant students and meeting their specific needs can change lives. We see successful pregnancies and help the students achieve success in the classroom. The payoff for these efforts will be seen for generations to come.
In addition, I have served on the Irving ISD Health Advisory council since 2004. We evaluate and recommend programs on sexual health to be adopted by the district. Teens rate sexual health information as the number one issue they want to learn about in health class. Through our efforts we have implemented evidence based, effective and factual information on sexual health district wide.
In my school presentations I give fact based information from a health perspective. The students understand the type of diseases, the methods of transmission and how to avoid them. We also discuss the impact of teen pregnancy. Beyond the health information, I relay a message of individual responsibility. I empower the students to understand that they have choices. Teen pregnancy and STDs are not inevitable but rather a decision that they have control over.
During the presentation I always ask the students to write me a letter in 10 years telling the story of their life. I paint a realistic picture of what most of their stories will be. Statistically speaking the outcomes are not pretty. The sad truth is most of the young students in the office will not have an inspirational story to tell. I challenge these young people to be different. I challenge them to overcome the statistics and to tell me a story like my wife’s — one where they lifted themself up, overcame the obstacles and created a wonderful, successful life for themself and their child.
At the end of an office visit a few years ago a patient of mine said, “I have 4 more years.” I was not sure exactly what she meant. She clarified that six years before she was sitting in a high school auditorium listening to me speaking at Union Bower High School. She was telling me in 4 more years she will write me a letter telling me how she has graduated college and nursing school. You could see and feel the pride and determination as she told me this. Knowing that my words stuck in her head motivating her to succeed caused me to tear up on the spot.
Students like this reinforce to me the importance of having health care providers meet the special need of these young patients. Community leaders must continue to work with the school district to impact the lives of young people.
I am not naive. I know that teen pregnancy will continue to be a challenge in Irving, Texas and across the world. But I also know that a health care provider can touch lives. Each day we can serve as one stepping stone helping a young patient along the pathway to a successful life. Together we can make a difference.
Jeff Livingston is an obstetrician-gynecologist at MacArthur OB/GYN, also on Facebook. He can be reached on Twitter @macobgyn.